On one recent Thursday morning just before 8, Albert Matsumoto stands on the sidewalk outside of his longtime home in Nuuanu, smiling and waving at each passing car. Holding a sign that reads, “Safety First, Slow Down 25 MPH,” Matsumoto reminds drivers to proceed with caution.
This has been his weekday ritual since he retired from his career as an auditor nearly two decades ago. Now, at age 86, Matsumoto still waves his sign every morning for an hour or two, even when, on days like today, it’s windy and rainy.
“The only time that I am not out here is when there is lightning and I feel that the lightning is too close,” Matsumoto says, laughing. “Rain or shine, I am out here.
“We used to have some problems on this street,” explains Matsumoto, who now works as a tour conductor. “But now it’s better.”
And he is a large part of the reason for that improvement. The street is a high-risk area. An elementary school and a hospital are nearby, so there often are pedestrians in the area. And during the morning rush hour, the street can get pretty busy with both foot and car traffic. Near Matsumoto’s home also is a school for the blind, which is located at the bottom of a small hill. Matsumoto noticed that some cars were going too fast.
“(Drivers) don’t watch for the blind as much as they should. When you are going just 25 miles up there,” he says, pointing to the top of the street, “just rolling down, you’re going 35 already here.”
Students at the school regularly have to walk around the area to practice mobility skills with their canes. Matsumoto has seen a couple of close calls – and once, he even had to wave down a car to get it to stop in time while a blind student crossed the street. Apart from the students, there also have been accidents involving pedestrians in the area. Years ago, an elderly man was struck and killed about a block from Matsumoto’s home. More recently, an elderly woman, one of his neighbors, was killed on the next street over.
When he waves to drivers, he says they tend to slow down.
That’s not the only thing Matsumoto has done to make the street a safer place. In the 1960s, he also petitioned to allow parking on only one side of the street to better allow for emergency vehicles to get through.
Matsumoto knows most of the people who drive up and down the street; even if he hasn’t talked to them, he knows their face or their car. It’s clear from the smiles on the drivers’ faces when they see Matsumoto that beyond providing a reminder to slow down, he also brings some cheer to each of their mornings. “They are wonderful people,” he says, smiling.
“I hope that the people are aware that there are other people (walking) on the streets,” he says. “I do this just as a reminder, because no sense in getting mad at them. The smile will do the trick.”